The story takes place in London, England during the late nineteenth century, the Victorian Era. During this period, industrialists and inventors expanded society's capabilities, creating great progress in the fields of transportation and industry but also laying the groundwork for future problems like pollution. The middle class rose to great prominence, and families became smaller with fewer numbers of children, who tended to live longer. Queen Victoria ruled her empire with political acumen and used her personal life as an example of how she thought an English woman should behave. The ideal Victorian woman was expected to be feminine, moral, and devoted to her family and children. Intelligent and independent, Sally Lockhart acts contrary to this example. While faithful to her extended family, she serves more as a protector and authority figure to them. She runs her own financial consulting business, is a partner in a successful photography studio, and lives alone, things that, for a woman, were unusual.
Pullman employs various literary techniques in his work, the most notable being his use of symbolism, the suspense that permeates the story, and his narrative style. The symbolism used places Bellmann and Sally as polar opposites of evil and good, and their descriptions highlight this. At one point in the story, Charles jokingly says that Mackinnon must be being chased by Mephistopheles, and it would appear that this remark is not too far from the truth. Bellmann resembles Mephistopheles in his quest for power. Bellmann controls peoples lives and, in the case of Lord Wytham, their souls. He maneuvers politicians with financial incentives, decides who shall live and die according to his desires, and believes himself to be a savior. Outwardly, Bellmann maintains the appearance of polished, genteel goodness—he aligns himself with charities and builds recreational facilities for the towns that house his factories. His outer facade does not fool everyone, though; when Fred first sees Bellmann, he finds "something brutal about him . . . no . . . because that meant animal . . . this man was mechanical." Sally is neither polished nor well-connected, but she possesses an innate honesty and clarity of vision that Bellmann does not. As evidenced by her bargain for Miss Walsh's lost money, Sally believes in tangible justice, not an exaggerated sense of the needs of the many outweighing those of the few. Flawed and human, Sally represents the good that exists in humanity.
While in many respects Shadow in the North is not a conventional mystery story, it still generates a great deal of suspense. Pullman accomplishes this by periodically shifting the focus of his story from one character to the next. At one time or another, Jim, Sally, Fred, Lord Wytham, or the shadowy Mr. Brown can be perceived as the narrator. By changing the narration from one character to another, the reader gains bits of information about the characters and the investigation at hand that must be put together like a puzzle. While knowing that Bellmann will be defeated in the end, the reader has no idea how it will happen, and these bits of data provide the suspense.
Pullman uses a third-person limited omniscient narrative style in Shadow in the North, shifting the focus of the narrative from one character to another during the course of the novel. This provides the reader with multiple points of view and gives a fuller picture of the story's details. In addition, it enables the reader to know the narrator better, because each section takes on the thoughts and tones of its teller. When Sally or Fred narrates, their thoughts shown to the audience appear smoother and more controlled when dealing with the mysteries at hand but appear somewhat flustered when they consider their relationship. Jim's sections are more action-oriented. Whether Jim is thinking of fighting, his dislike of and anger at Mackinnon, his writing attempts, or his feelings for Lady Mary, his sections feel slightly more scattered, less organized and more active than those of Sally and the others. Perhaps the most interesting section of narration is the one told by Lord Wytham. Through his thoughts the reader experiences the feelings of fear and humiliation that he tries to hide from Bellmann: ". . . it was the sensation . . . of coming into unexpected collision with something . . . more powerful than himself . . . Lord Wytham felt as if he'd sold his soul and found . . . the price he'd gotten . . . was . . . a mouthful of ash."
By using the literary techniques of symbolism, suspense, and narrative style, Pullman draws his audience into the story. The use of Victorian England as the setting provides the reader with a framework to understand some of the conflict between Sally and society, and Pullman's vividly descriptive language creates an intriguing tone.
For Further Reference
Pullman, Philip. "The Place Where I Write." In From the Inside Out: the Author Speaks. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. In this humorously interesting pamphlet distributed by his publisher, Pullman describes where and how he writes—the processes and decorations that occur and exist in his shed.
—— . Special Author/Illustrator Questionnaire. New York: Random House, Department of Marketing, n.d. Pullman answers several questions about his childhood and his goals in this insightful questionnaire.
Vasilakis, Nancy. Review. Horn Book (May/June) 1988: 361-362. Vasilakis offers a detailed, but not too revealing review of Pullman's book. She discusses his characterizations, setting, and the fine line between young adult and adult literature in regards to several scenes in the novel.